My mother quit smoking twenty years ago. Last month she quit Nicorette Gum. She always told me that nicotine was more addictive than heroin. She also told me that if I ever used heroin it would end up killing me. These cautionary words discouraged me from ever trying heroin, but parent modeling is stronger than words of wisdom; so for a period of my life I did smoke.
I fancied myself a social smoker; I smoked when I was out drinking with friends. I also smoked when I felt down or depressed, which made me feel even worse, both physically and emotionally. It allowed me to wallow deeply in a smoky cavern of self-loathing.
Call it denial, but I never considered myself a real smoker. I could get away with it, because whenever I felt myself getting sucked into the addiction, I quit. It usually took a few days with a migraine headache, but I was able to quit repeatedly without too much torture.
I would know it was time to quit when one of two things happened. One was when I started to have asthma attacks. I know you probably think it is crazy that a person with asthma would smoke in the first place, but the allure of that modeled bad/cool girl behavior was too tempting. I think that kids’ brains get subconsciously hardwired to do stupid behaviors like smoking when they are teen-agers if they have grown up around it. Of course peer pressure is huge, but I think parent modeling is even stronger.
The other way I knew it was time to quit was when I noticed my every thought being taken over by plans for having my next cigarette. I realized that I was expending an exorbitant amount of mental energy thinking about smoking. When was I going to have my next cigarette? Where was I going to smoke it? Will other people be able to smell it on me if I do it? Should I change my clothes or brush my teeth? Do I need to buy some more? Should I have just one or two? How about just one more? Etc, etc, etc ad nauseum, literally!
I realize now that this is the thing with addiction and I don’t care what the addiction is to; it could be to heroin, to food, to nicotine or even as the song says, to love. The thing with addiction is that it takes over your mental life. Ultimately, I found that fact more disturbing than the physical manifestations of addiction. I just thought that there were so many better ways I could spend my thoughts. Even if I didn’t actually smoke that often, I didn’t want to use up anymore mental space thinking about it.
So when my mom was agonizing over chewing her last piece of Nicorette Gum, I shared with her my thoughts on addiction and the mental space it takes over. She found this perspective illuminating and helpful and she suggested I blog about it. So here it is. I just hope that the cycle of addiction in my family is now broken, for my daughter’s sake.